Welsh Green Dragon


Is the fight lost to save Llanishen Reservoir? by Chris Halpin

Is this the end?

It seems after months of draining Llanishen reservoir in North Cardiff is finally empty.

Welsh Green Dragon was there back in February when Western Power Distribution, who own the water body, started draining down the water for a reported safety inspection.

Although at the time the water level was falling, young sailors were still having lessons and it continued to be a valued recreational amenity for people living in northern Cardiff.

However after a local resident recently sent the photograph at the top of this piece to us,  it seems the pumps have been turned off and the stark reality of the drain down has been revealed.

What was once a large open mass of water is now a boggy bowl of mud.

Agencies have ‘not done enough’

Campaigners fighting to save the reservoir have always contested the need to drain down the reservoir and that it amounted to ecological and environmental vandalism.

Local anglers have also accused the Environment Agency of not doing enough to protect the fish whose habitat has been destroyed.

Argument that a recent move by Cardiff City council to officially make the area around the reservoir a nature reserve will save it from being redeveloped into a housing estate is optimistic.

Not much protection has been afforded so far by the listing of the structure by CADW or by the minimal intervention from the Environment Agency. Nor have objections by local MP’s or councillors.

Now it’s empty it really does look like there’s no going back.

A piece on the Lisvane News last week asked ‘Is the fight to save Llanishen reservoir almost won?’. I’d have to argue otherwise. Put simply – what is a reservoir without any water?

When will the inspection of the pipes start?

Western Power have always maintained they must drain the water to examine pipes they said sat on the bed of the reservoir.

They don’t seem to be there and as Llanishen RAG‘s surveyors said all along it seems the pipes must be encased in concrete underneath the bottom layer of the structure.

We’ll just have to wait and see how long it takes for this ‘inspection work’ to happen.

What next?

If the reservoir stays empty a number of things will most certainly change.

Damage could be caused to the linings of the clay lined walls as the Victorian banks of the reservoir dry out.

This means it could become structurally unsafe and not be strong enough to ever hold water again.

Despite South Wales rainfall being heavy – it’s thought it could take as long as a decade to refill naturally.

And local residents will no longer be fighting for a reservoir, they’ll be fighting for a swampy brown pit. One wonders how long it will be until support for the Reservoir Action Group will start to wane.

It seems this could be the end for the reservoir, and instead of being a triumph for the locals, they’ve been trampled on by a multinational company who favour profit over the environment.

Let’s hope this isn’t the end for Llanishen and the Lisvane News is right.



Combating Food Waste in Wales by Chris Halpin

How much money do we waste on food each year?

Consumers in Wales will spend twenty four thousand pounds in their lifetime on food that they will never eat.

This equates to around 15p in every pound you spend on your weekly trip to the supermarket, or each year around £480 for the average UK household, increasing to £680 a year for households with children – an average of just over £50 a month.

However, environmental campaigners are saying that supermarkets themselves are needlessly throwing away around 1.8 million tonnes of food each year that is still good to eat, and that they need to do more.

Food for the vulnerable

Charitable organisations like Bristol based Fareshare South West are trying to tap into this waste stream.

They work with food distributors directly and receive weekly palettes of produce that never make it onto supermarket shelves. This food is often within date, and is returned because of packaging errors or over-ordering by certain stores.

They then break down the food, including ready meals, fresh fruit, vegetables and cereals, and distribute it to 27 organisations which work with vulnerable people like drug addicts and the homeless.

Jacqui Reeves, manager of operations for Fareshare, says they are only scratching at the surface in terms of how much waste supermarkets produce.

“It’s really seasonal. In the winter we get loads of soup, now we’re getting a lot of smoked salmon. It’s all perfectly good to eat and otherwise it would just end up in landfill – it’s madness really”

‘Bin diving’

Other people are taking advantage of supermarket throw aways for themselves.

So called ‘Bin Divers’ monitor skips round the back of stores at the end of each day to see what they can find. Gareth Blake from Splott in Cardiff has been ‘diving’ for nearly two years. When asked why he shouldn’t pay for his food like everyone else, he said.

“Well anyone can do it if they want, it’s free to everyone.I’m doing the supermarkets a favour really, and think of all the methane that’s being saved from when it decomposes at landfill”

Finding your dinner in a skip is perhaps not everyone’s idea of a healthy balanced diet though. When posed with this, he was still resolute.

“If you look at where food comes from, like the blood and guts from a slaughter-house or pesticides and herbicides or animal manure from the farm, it’s [the food] not particular hygienic to start with”

Friendly food fight

There are also an increasing number of stunts that environmental campaigners are pulling to try and engage the public in the food waste issue.

Cardiff East Transition Group worked with Fareshare and bin divers to collect food for a mass friendly food fight. It might seem quite perverse to be throwing food around to highlight how wasteful we are, but according to organiser Tim Fisher, it’s not just about the serious message.

“We’ve had a food fight because it’s a fun thing to do, and something people can relate to. We’re chucking stuff around to show how we should stop doing this”

Will landfill tax lead to higher prices?

So three very different approaches to making the most of the food that never makes it into your shopping trolley. However with landfill taxes rising, the supermarkets may well be forced to clean up their acts and start reducing their waste – which means we might be getting higher food bills instead.



Drainage is well underway at Llanishen Reservoir by Chris Halpin

Video Report by Chris Halpin and Jennie Clark

Llanishen Reservoir Action Group have been campaigning tirelessly for almost ten years to save one of North Cardiff’s largest green spaces from the developers.

In what some campaigners have called a battle of David against Goliath, the action group (or RAG for short), are taking on the reservoirs owners, Western Power Distribution, who want to build hundreds of new houses in its place. Western Power are the UK subsidiary of American firm Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), thought to be worth £7.5 billion.

Brief history

Constructed in 1884, Llanishen was part of a network of freshwater reservoirs that brought water down from the Brecon Beacons to be used as drinking water in the ever expanding city of Cardiff.

It ceased to be used for this purpose about 35 years ago, and was sold off by Margaret Thatcher in the eighties when water companies were privatised.

Despite not being used for drinking water now, over the years it has become a valued recreational amenity for walkers, fishermen and aspiring sailors.

However, over the past decade its owners Western Power have gradually restricted access to the public, and soon its final users, Llanishen Sailing Centre, won’t be able to use it either.

Once the water level is too low, about 3 metres below normal, the sailors simply won’t be able to get their boats in and out of the water.

The dispute about draining down

Western Power claim they’re emptying the reservoir in accordance with a survey they had commissioned in 2008. They say they need to inspect underwater pipe work for safety reasons – these pipes lying on the bottom of the reservoir and can only be accessed through drainage, according to the report.

In light of newer evidence and an original copy of the Victorian reservoirs building specification, RAG have since had their own survey commissioned. This says the pipes are not where Western Power maintain, and in fact are encased in concrete underneath the reservoir. RAG are therefore arguing that this completely negates any reason to be draining down the water.

Although Western Power have been denied planning permission for this redevelopment twice, campaigners fear that once the water is drained it will never fully refill, as water levels are only kept stable through rainwater. They are concerned the empty reservoir will become an eyesore, and the council will eventually give in to redevelopment as a lesser of the two evils.

Silt and the threat to Roath Park Lake

Western Power are allowed to drain off the top three metres of water but the Environment Agency say they are monitoring the levels closely to make sure they do not exceed this. If Western Power drain off more than this there is the risk that over a century of underlying silt could be disturbed and enter the Nant Fawr stream, which is where the reservoir’s water is being pumped into. This flows into Roath Park lake and campaigners also fear wildlife there could be affected. The Environment Agency called on Western Power not to empty, but drainage began at the end of February.

Protected Status and Government support

The structure of the reservoir has been listed by CADW as historically important, the banks are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the area surrounding it which is owned by Cardiff Council has been made a nature reserve.

Western Power is trying to refute each level of this protected status, and RAG estimates the company have spent around £10 million pounds on legal fees trying to get each of them overturned and appealing the rejected planning applications.

Cardiff Council and the Welsh Assembly are supporting campaigners, with MP for Cardiff North Julie Morgan and Assembly Member Jenny Randerson personally involved. Julie Morgan also recently voiced her frustrations to Welsh Secretary Peter Hain in the House of Commons, which allowed previously confidential information about findings in the engineers surveys to be reported in the press, under parliamentary privilege.

How to join in the campaign

If you want to join the fight to save the reservoir, you can sign the online petition here,  follow regular updates on the Wales Online blog, or discuss it on this forum.



Fairtrade Fortnight – what will you swap? by Chris Halpin

This years FairTrade fortnight has centred around one thing. Making individuals pledge to swap just one product they’d normally buy to a fair trade one. Organisers say this year has also been about raising awareness of the whole range of more unusual items that now carry the fair trade logo.

Fair trade groups work throughout the year to dispel any doubts people may have about fair trade products, but fair trade fortnight is the highlight of the calendar.

Welsh Green Dragon went to a Tea Dance organised by FairTrade Wales in St David’s Shopping Centre in Cardiff to find out more.

It’s never been easier to switch to FairTrade, especially now many of the big supermarkets are paying a fair price to suppliers in developing countries who help to produce many of their own brand products. When you think of FairTrade, what immediately springs to mind? Most people we asked said Tea, Coffee,  Bananas, then perhaps chocolate.

But there are many other ways in which we can switch to ensure a fair deal for farmers in developing nations. Cotton is the perfect example, and Tesco have recently made a pledge to sell fair trade school uniforms for the academic year 2010/11. Fairtrade organisations are pushing for hospitals and hotels who use alot of cotton to think about ethically sourcing their linen. Other ways to switch could be with Wine, Rum, Olive Oil or like Environment Minister Jane Davidson, you could promise to switch to buying fair trade Melon’s.

However getting your hands on these items is not always as easy as it seems. Fairdo’s in Canton stocks a range of products ranging from pyjamas to peanut butter, but as part of your weekly shop you’re restricted to what you can find in the supermarket.

I asked some people in Cardiff if they knew exactly what FairTrade stood for.

It’s clear that Wales is leading the way in ensuring a fair deal for farmers in developing nations, and that groups here work tirelessly to promote the fair trade ethos.  There are groups right across Wales who organise events from Tea Dances to holding stalls at farmers markets. However, changing consumer attitudes is easier said than done, as can be seen from the video above.

Fairtrade campaigners hope that with big players like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Nestle‘s KitKat jumping onto the FairTrade bandwagon,  other multinationals will also follow suit.

My swaps will be Rum and Coffee – although I don’t think I’ll be mixing them together.



Asylum seekers demonstrate against racism outside UKBA in Cardiff by tanyamercer

Asylum seekers have been demonstrating outside the UK Border Agency in Cardiff today.

They called for an independent inquiry following allegations by whistleblower Louise Perrett, who worked for the Agency last summer, that there was a culture of discrimination within the organisation.

Chris produced this radio piece on the background of the story.

Pressure mounts for independant inquiry at Cardiff UKBA Offices

Chris and I went down to the demonstration to find out more.

Reported by Tanya Mercer, produced and edited by Chris Halpin

Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins is part of the Cross Party Group for Human Rights, which is also calling for an independent inquiry into the alleged discrimination at the Agency.

She explained how people seeking asylum were easily manipulated because they couldn’t understand the system.

She also commented how the UK Border Agency expressed disapproval that Louise Perrett was invited to speak at the Cross Party Group on Human Rights meeting on the 16th of February.

But demonstrators say the only way to fight for asylum seekers rights is to continue to put pressure on organisations like the UK Border Agency. And the biggest and most important battle, they say, is changing mindsets and attitudes.



Prime Minister petitioned to help Cardiff buses by tanyamercer

 

A petition from Save Cardiff Central is going to ten Downing Street asking Gordon Brown to prevent Cardiff Council reducing the city’s bus services. 
Campaigners, including the city’s Green party, say the council’s development of Cardiff Central is making it more difficult for people to use public transport in the capital and reducing the city’s main transport hub.
Signatories are calling on the Prime Minister to prevent other local authorities across England and Wales from doing the same. 

Matt Townsend, Green party candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth, started the petition.  He said: “On a national level the government has been talking about integrated public transport, but if on a local level individual councils are able to take away those facilities or reduce the amount they are used, then that seems inconsistent. And once they’ve been reduced in size I’m worried they’ll never go back to the way they were before.” 

Councillor Delme Bowen, Travel and Traffic Executive for Cardiff City Council, said: “The petition fails to see the benefits the changes will bring. We are not reducing the integrated transport hub but modernising it. We will have two hubs – one in St Mary’s street and one at Cardiff Central.”
  

Sustainable Travel City
The changes were introduced as part of Cardiff Council’s joint Sustainable Travel City initiative with the Welsh Assembly Government. The council hopes the changes will reduce congestion in the city centre and encourage more people to use public transport. 

The ‘bus box’ 

Cardiff bus box

The new bus routes, which were introduced in October last year, mean all the buses now travel in an anti clockwise direction around the city.
Campaigners say this means people have further to walk to get to bus stops and adds considerable time onto people’s travel signs. 

Cardiff Central Station
In an attempt to reduce congestion around the bus station, more bus stops have been introduced along St Mary’s Street. Consequently only half the buses now stop at Cardiff Central Station.
Councillor Bowen says this will help keep traffic flowing around the city centre.
But Matt Townsend said: “Nearly all buses used to stop at Cardiff Central, but now many stop away from the station. This means people wanting to make connections with local and national trains and buses have to walk further. This means people will be less inclined to use the buses and those with mobility problems will be particularly affected. If the council wants people to use public tranport they need to make it easier for them, not more difficult.”  

Free B bus
Matt Townsend also has concerns about the new Free B bus, which is designed to link up bus stops around the city.
“Because the free bus only runs til about 8pm, it means people have to wait at other bus stops late enough. Although Cardiff Central Station isn’t the safest place, it is busy and people feel safer waiting there.”
There are also complaints from Cardiff residents that people haven’t been told about the free service. Consequently, very few people are using the service.
Councillor Bowen says a new publicty campaign has now started to advertise the new service. There will be a leaflet drop to people’s homes and posters put up around city bus stops.  

Future Plans
Save Cardiff Cental campaigners are concerned that the council has not been clear about its longer term plans for Cardiff Central Station and the city’s bus system.
Coucillor Bowen says the plans could take another five years to materialise. He said: “We’re in discussions about a new bus station and new sustainable transport systems such as a tram that can run on the road or on tracks.
“I know we’re going through a transition period now, but we will end up with a much better transport system, with less congestion. Consequently, people will be able to move around the city much more easily.”



Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor? by Chris Halpin

Getting involved is billed as taking part in the ‘Greatest Bank Job Ever’. Loosely based on the Tobin tax, a group of charities have launched a new campaign which proposes to raise money from those notorious misers the bankers through – guess what – the Robin Hood Tax.

Bankers have had a bit of a bashing of late, blamed for the economic meltdown and lets face it, the banker on Noel Edmonds ‘Deal or no Deal’ is a right git.

Today the campaign came to Cardiff and I was there to see what happened.

At one o’clock unsuspecting city centre workers on their lunchbreak were treated to a surprise flash mob of dancing bankers springing into action outside Cardiff Central Library.

As you can see from the film Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams was also there for the photo opportunity to show her party’s support for the scheme.

The idea is to impose a 0.05% tax on transactions over £1000, which could be used closer to home to avoid massive cuts to vital public services like the NHS and help tackle climate change and help end poverty further afield.

The idea was launched yesterday and has already received a massive reaction, with the campaign plastered over Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. This is also thanks to celebrity endorsements from the likes of Richard Curtis and actor turned activist Bill Nighy who made this film.

But will the UK government really impose taxes on the banks? There are some bloggers out there who hope so, and some who do not.

And what do the banks make of all this? I tried getting in touch with a couple this afternoon to get their take on it but no one wanted to talk to me.

Government policy making is about as far removed from dancing flash mobs gyrating to Abba as you can probably get but it’ll surely be interesting to see who jumps on this political bandwagon in the run up to the general election.